Youngkin’s work-from-home policy will drive workers out of state seeking flexibility, Democrats say

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On Friday, Democratic lawmakers in Virginia called on Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) to roll back a new policy requiring state employees to return to full-time in-person work by July 5, arguing the move would drive talented workers.

Youngkin announced the policy earlier this month with the goal of making Virginia more innovative and user-friendly. The relaxed telecommuting policies that his predecessor, former Gov. Ralph Northam (D), implemented during the coronavirus pandemic have allowed many state employees to work remotely several days a week.

With Friday being the deadline for state workers to seek waivers from the new policy, eight Democrats from both houses of the General Assembly argued in a letter to Youngkin that the move goes against a trend in the private sector that allows more flexibility for hybrid work. schedules.

While resuming in-person service — at the Department of Motor Vehicles and elsewhere — is important, lawmakers said, the recent spike in coronavirus cases in the Washington area illustrates the need to maintain remote work options for employees who may be vulnerable to infection or have family members who are vulnerable.

Additionally, according to their letter, Virginia has allowed remote work to be an option since 2004, with supervisors using their discretion to help state employees in rural areas manage their schedules and attract and retain. coveted workers.

The future of work: “The office as we know it is over.”

“So many of our state employees understand and value the public service they provide to their fellow Virginians,” the letter read. “However, the now limited telecommuting options will likely lead to an attrition of talented state employees who will also take with them a considerable amount of institutional knowledge.”

Macaulay Porter, spokesman for Youngkin, said the administration’s goal was to provide top-notch service across all agencies.

“We established the new telecommuting policy with flexibility for an employee and their supervisor to discuss telecommuting options and what suits their role and the organization,” Porter said. “Legislators’ concerns have been taken into account in the policy and its implementation.

Porter said the policy affected 58,000 state executive employees.

Youngkin has often accused Democrats of going overboard with pandemic rules, including extended school closures, mask mandates and the suspension of walk-in services at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

But its action on remote work goes in the direction of Virginia’s more liberal neighbors. Public workers in Maryland and DC have returned to in-person work since July.

The policy, which supersedes all previous telecommuting agreements entered into by individual state agencies, allows employees to request exceptions for health or other personal considerations, but senior administration officials would have to sign those exemptions before they are granted.

Only a branch manager can approve a request to telecommute one day a week. A Cabinet Secretary must sign two days a week. Three or more days a week require permission from Youngkin’s chief of staff, Jeff Goettman.

It was unclear Friday how many Virginia state employees had requested waivers, which Youngkin’s office says will be processed by June 3, so there is plenty of time for new work schedules. work are established by July 5.

In their letter, Democratic lawmakers asked Youngkin to allow state agency heads to work with their staff on steps to return to pre-pandemic work schedules and wait until after the holiday vacation. of Labor for these discussions to take place.

Lawmakers also asked the governor to create an interagency task force — including members of the General Assembly whose districts are home to large numbers of state employees — to propose revisions to current state policy. on telework that would take into account, in part, the technology that makes remote work work easier.

Of the. Rodney T. Willett (D-Henrico), one of the letter’s co-signers, said many state employees who live in his district just outside of Richmond have contacted his office with concerns about the loss of their more flexible working hours.

That flexibility, along with the larger health benefits that public employees typically receive, have been decoys to professionals who might be able to earn more doing the same kind of work in the private sector, Willett said.

Willett said many state employees might be excited about returning to their offices full-time and that he supports it happening “where it makes sense.”

“The purpose of this is to ensure that we have people to deliver the services in person,” he said. “It’s super important.”

But, he said, if the loss of work flexibility scares away those workers “and those people start going to the private sector, who is going to provide the services in person?


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